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BOOK REVIEWS, Fantasy, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions

HORTON HALFPOTT or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor or The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset by Tom Angleberger

Horton Halfpott is a kitchen boy, working at Smugwick Manor for the Luggertuck family.  The Luggertucks range from unpleasant to cruel to evil in both act and intention. Horton Halfpott’s adventure actually begins–unbeknownst to him–when M’Lady Luggertuck inexplicably chooses NOT to tighten her corset one morning as her maid, Old Crotty, is helping her to dress.

The choice to loosen the corset leads M’Lady to consent to throwing a costume ball in honor of visiting cousin, Montgomery, and the young lady with whom he is infatuated. In the course of following orders to deliver an invitation to the costume ball Horton falls in the mire and then meets the most beautiful, kind young lady he has ever seen.  He is smitten even though he knows he could never hope to possibly be her friend, since he is only a servant.

In the midst of the insecurities of and spoon-beatings dished out by the cook, Miss Neversly, the secret of Lord Emberly Luggertuck and M’Lady choosing to wear two buckets of skunk-pig perfume to the Ball is a delightfully funny, sweet story in which Horton and his friends the stableboys–Bump, Blight and Blemish–foil an evil plot by Luther Luggertuck, help a gang of shipless pirates escape from jail and aid a famous detective in solving the disappearance of the Luggertuck Lump.

The author gives his inspirations as the authors Charles Dickens and Daniel Pinkwater.  Both influences are evident in the naming of the characters and the wonderfully quirky style in which they speak, feel and act.  There is also a wonderful Monty Python-esque quality to the treatment of the press and those who would put on airs.  This is an excellent choice for read-aloud or independent reading selection.  It is the perfect mix of fairytale and parody, succeeding in being comical without condescending!

Mr. Angleberger is also the author of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda which is also a delightful read for older elementary or middle school readers.


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